Name: Maria Esther Landa

Age: 31

Location: Lima, Peru

Job: Founder and General Manager, Santa Maria Industries

Notable Quote: "By studying and opening your mind, you become free."

More than a year after a colossal earthquake shook Lima, Peru, around 55,000 families still remain homeless or displaced. That's what Maria Landa is out to change. By using her unique skills as a professional welder, she's constructing crucial temporary homes — one tent at a time.

Q: Tell us about the tent project.

A:
When the quake hit, houses fell apart like toys. So I'm helping the nonprofit CARE by building tents for the homeless. I run my own welding company, and we're making 1,000 tents — each sheltering six people. I wake up early to weld the frames and cover them in canvas, then do it again every night after work. I'm honored to help — it's a comfort like no other to have a home.

Q: Would you say you're a trendsetter as a female welder?

A:
A decade ago, we didn't have women working with metals or in construction in Peru. So, yes, now I make windows, doors, and construction components, and I collaborate with engineers and architects. I've even welded airplanes!

Q: What led you to take a nontraditional path?

A:
I attended an all-girls religious school, and my teachers were women — independent, strong, and hardworking. They studied, taught, drove cars, even repaired them; they showed us how to be complete women, and I wanted to be like them. When my family bought a car, I figured out how to fix it. Later, I took a welding course sponsored by CARE and learned how to run a business. I loved it — that's what helped me feel confident enough to start my own company. Now I'm taking business classes at a local college.

Q: What else inspires you?

A:
I recently had the opportunity to travel to Washington, DC, and New York City through a global program for women in business called the Leadership Project. I got to meet with the president of the Women's National Basketball Association, the Washington Mystics' Sheila Johnson, and see how the WNBA works. We talked about problems in my company and solutions I could take back home with me.

Q: What did you think of American women?

A:
I like how strong they are and how hard they work and how they seem to help each other out. I used to imagine that women in other countries were different, but now I see they aren't — they think a lot about their families, they want to spend more time with their kids, and make the world better for them.

Q: Have you faced resistence for going against the grain?

A:
Sure, there are always people who are surprised to see me welding — they honestly find it hard to believe a woman could do a job like this, a job that's usually reserved for men. But at the same time, I've had parents hold me up as an example for their kids. Once when I was working, a father walked by with his children, and he stopped to tell them, "Look at this woman. She can do it, and so can you!"

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